22 Dec This is war
Growing up in a western, enlightened society I learned to look down on everyone else’s understanding of the world. I learned empirical values. I learned to despise the childish notions of our ignorant ancestors. Accordingly, Greek mythology, demonic activity and supernatural phenomena were classified with unicorns and elves.
And yet, without acknowledging any contradiction, I learned to pray, to accept miracles and to believe the Bible. Maintaining these opposing views–that Christian spirituality is real and every other form is fantasy–has stunted the development of my spiritual growth. My understanding of what is real has progressed slowly. And I have ignored my enemy giving him, I fear, the upper hand. Thankfully, the Holy Spirit is an excellent and patient teacher moving me toward maturity even in this.
But I have been trained by my own culture to dismiss these forces rather than to recognize them.
Living in Papua New Guinea among a community steeped in animism (belief in spirits), I confront the possibility–or reality–of spiritual forces that were easy to ignore inside America’s borders. Sorcery is part of life here. As a witchcraft skeptic, I am the oddball. But I have been trained by my own culture to dismiss these forces rather than to recognize them. While I am tempted to ignore the possibility of demonic activity, I am reminded by Paul that I live on a spiritual battlefield.
Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.
1 Corinthians 10:3-4
For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds.
Engaging the culture here in PNG, it would be foolish for me to ignore this reality. I am learning to acknowledge my enemy and engage spiritually. I use the weapons at my disposal: truth, righteousness, the gospel of peace, faith, salvation, God’s word and prayer (Ephesians 6:13-20, not my ideas.) And I am truly dependent on others who pray for me and my family.
We have experienced the attacks of “spiritual forces” and seen the results of prayer. While our personal experiences are unique to tribal ministry in PNG, the New Testament is not. Though the “schemes of the devil” will certainly take different forms in other places, Paul does not limit the scope of his admonition.
Whether we are involved in neighborhood outreach, prison ministry, fostering, discipleship or evangelism, we are engaging in a spiritual battle.
Whether we are involved in neighborhood outreach, prison ministry, fostering, discipleship or evangelism, “our struggle is…against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.” When I set out to influence the pagans around me, I engage in a spiritual battle. When I endeavor to disciple my children (sometimes called “parenting”,) I engage in a spiritual battle. When I purpose to love my wife, I engage in a spiritual battle. In all these activities, I am struggling against spiritual powers that strive against me.
Should I pretend they do not exist? Or should I prepare myself according to God’s Word? We must acknowledge the enemy and walk in dependence on God as we engage spiritually if we hope to find success when we engage culturally.